cootie-catchers and OED Appeal: cooties (probably 1965)

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Oct 4 13:31:28 UTC 2012

At 10/4/2012 08:34 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>"Have cooties" was undoubtedly the effectively transitional expression.
>A kid writing "X has cooties" on the board in 1920 would have meant and
>been understood to mean "X is so dirty and disgusting that he has head
>and/or body lice."  Fifty years later it could would be more likely to mean
>"Stay away from X because he's dirty and/or weird and you'll get infected
>It's probably  impossible to say just when the semantic shift of "cooties"
>took place.  I'm quite sure I never noticed the modern sense in public
>grade school in NYC (1954-1960) or even in middle school.  The literal
>"louse" sense, however, was quite familiar to me.

And Stephen found:
>1963 Honestly, Katie John! (Scholastic Book Services) p. 89 [GB]
>Mary Calhoun, Paul Frame
>When class started, she quietly pinched her cootie- catcher at the
>hair of the girl sitting in front of her, though not actually
>touching the unaware girl. Each "cootie" that Katie caught she
>pretended to deposit in a little box she'd rummaged out of ...

And during discussion in Aug. 2000 (Subject: cootie catcher) the 40s
and 50s were mentioned (my experience too).  So perhaps this variety
of "cootie catcher" -- surely different from monkeys and the other
types in Stephen's list? -- can be brought back earlier than 1963.


The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list